When I was working out how to fly from Kiev, Ukraine to Shiraz, Iran – the most direct and affordable flights always involved a stopover in Istanbul. However, these stopovers were bloody long (12-18 hours!) and the idea of rushing around in Istanbul for a few hours to try and make the most of such a stopover sounded seriously unappealing.
So instead, I decided to spend a few days in Istanbul exploring some of the most beautiful parts of this enormous and overwhelmingly historic city.
The Grand Bazaar
Unfortunately, I found the bazaars and markets to be much more unpleasant than I had anticipated. The Spice Market and Grand Bazaar were both super touristy, crazily busy, and I found that I couldn’t walk more than a few metres without being accosted, grabbed or yelled at by someone desperate to sell their overpriced wares to a foreigner.
While walking through the Grand Bazaar I also noticed that there was a distinct lack of unaccompanied females – I did not see a single other woman who was walking around alone, and perhaps this added to my negative experience in the place.
In all honesty, I think that being hassled so much really does discourage people from actually wanting to make a purchase! I wanted to buy one of these gorgeous lamps, but no sooner than I had looked at them, the owner of the shop had already come out and forcibly tried to get me to enter his shop! I bought next to nothing in Istanbul, purely because of this behaviour. I have a feeling that people would probably actually sell a lot more if they just chilled out a bit.
This public square lies between two of Istanbuls most famous landmarks – Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. The restaurants in this area are very touristic, but despite this, it is a lovely place to go for a stroll and enjoy some free examples of Turkish design and architecture.
Hagia Sophia is arguably the most important building in all of Istanbul. It began as Greek Orthodox Church in 537AD, was converted to a mosque in 1453 and was later converted into a museum in 1935.
This building has been an important part of Turkish history and is also one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture in all of Turkey. It is particularly famous for its large dome, and for holding the title of largest cathedral in the world for hundreds of years. It was only in 1520 when Seville Cathedral was completed that it was bumped from the top spot.
The Hagia Sofpia is truly enormous, and as such, after almost walking into a Chinese tour group because I was too preoccupied with looking at the ceiling, I decided that sitting down for a while might be a good idea.
No sooner than I had plonked my butt down on one of the very few benches, I was approached by this furry creature!
This little kitty is named Gli, and is actually a rather well known figure around Instanbul. He has been living inside this famous building for years – and even met Obama!
Gli enjoyed pats, posing for pictures and playing with my scarf – it was a pretty adorable welcome to Turkey.
The entrance fees to Hagia Sophia are by no means cheap (40TL or approximately $14 AUD) so make sure you take your time while visiting. Soak up every stunning nook and cranny to really make the most of your time at what is (in my honest opinion) the most stunning structure in Istanbul.
The basilica cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient underground cistern systems that lie underneath bustling Istanbul.
The name of this famous cistern was given due to the location of its construction. Before the construction of this cistern, a Constantinople-era basilica stood in the same spot.
The cistern has the capacity to hold a whopping 100,000 tonnes of water, but in the modern day it only holds enough water to make the floors glisten.
Entrance to the cistern is 10TL (approximately $3.50 AUD) and despite it being one of the cheapest ticketed attractions in Istanbul, it was easily one of my favourite.
It was hard to capture the darkness in photographs, but once you descend the 50-something stairs down, it really is dark done there. I loved the kinda spooky vibes of the place!
The Blue Mosque
If you have only heard of one building in Istanbul, there is a good chance that it would be the Blue Mosque.
This mosque is the most famous one in Istanbul, and gets its name due to the blue tiles lining the interior designs.
Entrance to the mosque is free (woohoo!) but you will need to wear modest clothing and a head scarf if you are a woman. If you don’t have the right gear it is available to borrow upon entering the mosque. You will also need to take off your shoes before entering, so try not to wear any footwear that is overly complicated to put on and take off.
Once inside the mosque, be prepared to be absolutely blown away by the beauty of it.
While visiting, make sure that you are careful not to stare at anybody who is praying, and also make sure to avoid using the flash on your camera or phone. It is after all, a place of prayer, so anybody visiting should do their absolute best to stay respectful.
The only thing I didn’t love about the Blue Mosque?
The truly ridiculous number of selfie sticks! Put them away guys, and instead just take a super subtle ‘I’m not even taking a photo’ selfie from down low. Not only will nobody look at you in annoyance for waving your selfie stick around, but you’ll also get the stunning roof and arches in the background of your picture – hello double win!
Getting to Istanbul: Istanbul is well serviced by two international airports – Ataturk and Sabiha Gökçen
Cheers Hostel: A cheap hostel with wonderful staff and a rooftop bar with brilliant views
Hagia Sophia: For more information about Hagia Sophia – click here
Camera: Images captured with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in conjunction with M.Zuiko 12-40mm f2/8 lens
Remember: If you plan to enter any religious sites – make sure to be respectful!